Historically, muscadine grape vines and the resulting fruit were discovered and recognized as a very important horticultural product, found growing in huge populations and proportions in the United States from Delaware southward along the Atlantic Seaboard. The first record of muscadine grape vine occurrence was posted in the ship logbook in the year 1524 by the navigator Giovanni de Varrazzano, who was hired as a captain from Florence, Italy by the king of France to explore and report on the inhabitants and the habitat of the New World. Captain Verrazzano described a big “white grape” (scuppernong) that was growing in great profusion at a valley in Cape Fear, N.C.
Not only were muscadine grape vines used by the American Indians for fresh fruit and juice, but they were also dried as raisins and preserved as winter snacks, as reported by Captain John Hawkins in 1565 from his sailing records from Florida.
In 1775, William Bartram in his book, Travels, reported muscadine grape vines that he had observed were virogously growing near Mobile, Al. “when ripe they are of various colours, and their juice sweet and rich.” He reported that American Indians actively preserved these grapes as raisins by drying them over gentle fires and later in the sun and air and “store them up for provision,” for winter meals.
U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, planted vineyards and harvested muscadines at his home at Monticello, and also, he established the fruit gardens at the White House in Washington, D.C. during the early 1800’s.
Arthur Barlowe in the year, 1584, wrote to Sir Walter Raleigh extolling upon landing in N.C. the fruitful land was “full of grapes, that I think in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found.”
Responding to that letter the following year, 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh described the mother-vine of the scuppernong (white grape) muscadine with a base thickness of the grape vine stalk of two feet through, and the huge vine covered ½ acre coiling up tree trunks growing 60 feet tall. Grapes were harvested in huge numbers and supplied the Mother Vineyard Winery with fruit to ferment into ‘Virginia Dare,’ wine in Manteo, N.C. This famous wine was pink, aromatic and similar to port wine.
“Virginia Dare” wine was produced and sold during the mid-1800’s, before the Civil War, and later reported by its market representative Paul Garrett as “the finest wine in the world.” As its marketing action soared after World War I, “Virginia Dare” wine emerged as the best selling wine in the United States.
As early American explorers anticipated, muscadine grapes were destined to become a significant horticultural commodity in the United States: today being also grown in Mexico and experimental trials of hybrid muscadines have been initiated in many third world nations. Muscadine vines are immune to practically all plant pests, such as fungus, bacteria, and nematodes, and the grapes are not commonly damaged by insects. There are approximately 50 distinct species of grapes found throughout the world and more than half of these are native to the United States. Grapes are an ancient biblical fruit and were extensively grown and cultivated in vineyards by the ancient cultures of Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Israeli, and Roman for fresh eating and for juice production and wine manufacture.
Over many centuries of grape development, new diseases mutated and spread within European ( Vitus vinifera) vineyards and threatened the very life and production of this very valuable commercial crop that had fueled the economy of many nations for centuries past. Vast vineyards of grapevines withered from newly developed, infectious diseases, however, it was discovered that European grapevines could be grafted onto American native grapevines to overcome these devastating and destructive problems. Another solution to the European plagues of grapevines was to intercross the two trans-continental species to form hybrid resistant hybrids. Much research is being done presently in using both approaches to improve present cultivar selection and to raise grapevine breeding toward a new level of development of excellence.
Muscadine grape vines were named, Vitis compestris Bartram, by William Bartram, the notable early American botanist in 1771. Present day botanists have agreed upon the name, Vitis rotundifolia Michx. Muscadines have acquired many commonly used names over the centuries, such as bull grape, bullace, bullets (all based on the fruit being the size of a bull’s eye), muscadine, scuppernong, fox grapes, and many others too numerous to list here.
Muscadine vines can grow up to 60 ft tall when supported in trees but if unsupported will only grow 3-4 ft tall. The leaves of muscadine vines are heart-shaped, light green in color and wide teeth are placed on the edges of the leaves. The plants are considered to be cold hardy, and the vines are not significantly damaged unless temperatures fall below minus ten degrees Fahrenheit.
Muscadine grape vines are found in much of the Eastern U.S. ranging from southern Delaware over to Illinois down to Northern Florida. They occur westward to Missouri and Kansas, then south to Texas and Mexico. The vines will survive in many areas except in deserts or on poorly drained soils.
Muscadine vines bloom in April and the mature grapes will mature in 100-120 days, with 6-24 berries per cluster. The berries and juice are deliciously sweet with a pleasant, fruity, aromatic flavor. If not harvested by hand, the muscadines will fall to the ground when ripe. The tough skin makes the muscadine highly resistant to insect and disease damage and the color can range from a bronzy-green to pink, red, blue, purple, or black.
In nature, the range of muscadine vines is abundant along river banks, swamps, dense woodlands, and thickets. Most muscadine cultivars are ranked as male and female and each grows on separate vines, so that cross pollination is essential for production of high quality and large sized fruit. Muscadine vines are marketed generally at “U-Pick” vineyards, roadside stands, and in local stores.
Recent medical revelations from university scientists show that muscadines offer significant health benefits when skins or seed capsules are consumed. Researchers at Mississippi State University discovered significant presence of resveratrol and other heart-health antioxidant, compound benefits that are found in heavy concentrations in muscadine grape vines.
University of Georgia researchers have shown that the seeds and skins of muscadines contain ellagic acid, an organic chemical compound that possesses the highest concentration of antioxidants that has yet been analyzed or found in any other fruit. Antioxidants are helpful in treating autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation and erosion of joints: that show any evidence of pain, stiffness, and swelling of bone joints. Antioxidants are used to treat patients with similar ailments that result from Rheumatoid Arthritis. These grape skins and seed can either be grown or consumed from the grape vines or bought in capsule form from commercial sources.
It is a striking revelation to researchers that grape vines contain organic substances that resist microbial attacks to include antioxidants that bolster the human immune system. The activated immune system can keep the body healthy and reverse heart damages, arthritis problems and interrupt invasive cancer development. These organic chemical substances in grapevines are trans-located to the grape skin, juice, and seed. The organic compounds make it possible to preserve grape juice in the form of wine and vinegar for years. These compounds that are contained within the grapes also preserve dried grapes in the form of raisins for long periods of time. It is not surprising that European grapes (Vitis vinifera) were developed and selected over the centuries. This selection created new cultivars with thinner skins for fresh eating and fine wine production. Seedless grapes were also developed for obvious reasons. It is clear that the American species of grapes were more resistant to diseases of grapes, because of the thicker skin of the muscadines and the bigger seeds. It is therefore understandable that human consumption of muscadine skins and grape seeds in some form would transfer the innate, genetic protective system of the organic chemical, compound armor into humans with the same rewards and health benefits to the consumer.
Muscadine vines can offer each person health benefits by eating and growing grapes. These muscadine vines can be purchased in various ages of productiveness such as 1 year, 2 year, and 3 year old vines that sometimes will bear during the first year.